Friday, June 15 Morning Session Abstracts (9:30–12:50)


Chair: Gilles GUIHEUX (Paris Diderot University)

Nathanel AMAR

The University of Hong Kong

Les vies du dakou en Chine : D’un déchet à sa nostalgie

Un objet inédit a transformé en profondeur la scène culturelle chinoise dans les années 1990 : le dakou (打口). Littéralement « encocher », le terme de dakou fait alors référence aux disques et cassettes audio vendus illégalement sur le marché noir chinois. Dans les années 1990, l’industrie musicale occidentale connaît en effet un début de crise, et envoie en Chine des conteneurs entiers de disques et cassettes invendus afin d’être recyclés. Pour éviter que ces produits ne soient détournés et revendus illégalement, les grandes compagnies cassent (打) l’extrémité (口) des disques et des cassettes audio afin de les rendre inutilisables. C’était sans compter sur le fait qu’un disque audio se lit de son centre vers sa périphérie, et en cassant l’extrémité d’un CD, seul le dernier morceau était inécoutable. Une partie de ces déchets musicaux se retrouve sur le marché noir des grandes villes chinoises, vendus à bas prix, et défiant la censure officielle, qui interdit une grande partie de la musique pop occidentale. À travers le dakou c’est toute une génération de jeunes qui va se former à la pop, au rock et au punk, et faire de cet objet destiné au recyclage un symbole de la « fièvre culturelle » (文化热) qui s’empare de la Chine des années 1990. Cette présentation entend ainsi retracer le parcours, et l’échange sur le marché noir, d’un objet qui a modifié en profondeur la scène (contre-)culturelle chinoise, en participant à la formation de la « D-Generation » des années 1990, dont la socialisation culturelle s’est concentrée autour d’œuvres piratés (盜版). Mais ce sera également l’occasion d’analyser la nostalgie du dakou, à travers les productions culturelles qui célèbrent cet objet désormais disparu et les collectionneurs qui lui donnent une nouvelle vie.

The Lives of Dakou in China: From waste to nostalgia

A peculiar object deeply transformed the Chinese cultural sphere in the 1990s: dakou (打口) CDs and tapes. Literally meaning “cut,” the term dakou refers to CDs and tapes illegally sold on the Chinese black market. In the 1990s, the Western musical industry suffered from a crisis and shipped to China unsold CDs and tapes in order to be recycled. To prevent them from being sold on the black market, the large corporations broke or cut (打) the edges (口) of the CDs and cassettes in order to render them useless. This did not take into account that an audio disc is read from the center to the outer edge, so only the last track was lost. A large part of this musical waste was sold for a cheap price on the black market in large Chinese cities, in defiance of official censorship, since a lot of Western pop music was forbidden. Through the consumption of dakou, a whole generation of young Chinese was introduced to Western pop, rock and punk, turning this object destined to be recycled into the symbol of the Chinese 1990s’ “cultural fever” (wenhua re 文化热). This presentation aims at analyzing the trajectory of this object, which was exchanged on the black market and profoundly shaped the Chinese (counter-)cultural sphere by helping create the “D-Generation” of the 1990s, whose cultural socialization was formed around pirated works (daoban 盜版). It will also be the occasion to investigate nostalgia for the dakou through cultural productions which celebrate this now-lost object and the collectors who have given it a new life.

James A. FLATH

University of Western Ontario

Unmanufacturing Modern China: Industrial Ruins and Post-Industrial Society

Heavy industry once defined China’s future as monolithic, progressive and brutally permanent. In the recent past, however, settlement patterns, residential values and industrial strategies have changed. Industry has been downgraded as a development priority, and China is now facing the troubling legacy of stubborn obsolescence. The industrial objects that once defined modernity are degenerating into ruins. Arjun Appadurai (Appadurai 2011) suggests that we treat objects not as stable entities but as processes, through which they acquire their “social life”. One may easily understand the factory as such a process that directs the trajectory of things and involves them in countless ways with people. By interpreting the factory as a process we begin to circumvent the artificial dichotomy of inanimate objects and human subjects – a dichotomy which Bruno Latour (Latour 1993) perceives as a basic and problematic condition of modernity. But what happens to the factory/thing when manufacturing stops, and in what kind of process is abandoned industry involved? What happens to the thing when it is released from its social life? Following the groundbreaking work on Northern European industrial ruins by Dag Andersson (Andersson 2014),Tim Edensor (Edensor 2005), and Thora Pétursdóttir (Pétursdóttir 2013), this paper explores the fate of Chinese industrial objects that are no longer involved in the system of industrial order. The disassociation of objects from order prompts us to engage them not according to their function but rather according to their materials. The material of industrial ruins, as Edensor argues, “rebukes” the normative assignment of objects, it interrogates the nature and history of objects, and opens the way for a “peculiar and sensuous” engagement with the body. This study of abandoned factories in Wuhan, Nanjing, and Shanghai frames China’s manufacturing past in terms of its present-day unmanufacturing, asking how post-industrial people relate to obsolete industrial artefacts. Specific examples will include the Shanghai Glass Co. (now the Museum of Glass), relics of the Hanyang Iron and Steel Works in Wuhan, and the Jinling Machine Works in Nanjing.


Harvard University

Sinological Garbology: Archives and History in Modern China

How does one rescue history, literally, from the dustbin? For nearly a century, scholars of China have used de-accessioned government papers, often peddled at flea markets outside the law, to peel away the country’s opacity. Even till today, these “garbage materials” have spawned archival collections and academic careers, but little understood is their provenance and circulation, let alone their enduring impact on Chinese history and historiography. The first ethnography of paper detritus of its kind, my dissertation examines the cultural, political, and intellectual sinews of information trafficking in the making of Chinese archives and history. From sold-off records of the Qing Empire to last remnants of the Mao era, I follow these heirless records to historical and present-day markets, where they collected not only monetary value in a gray economy of thrift and speculation, but also new epistemic status in an unending chain of re-use and re-organization. Through a bricolage of archival, ethnographic, and digital research, my project also illuminates how former logics of such papers — as tools of state secrecy and social control — impinged on the praxis and ethics of history. Tracing bureaucratic ephemera to a transnational cast of collectors, archivists, and scholars, I argue that as much as their salvage fractures official narratives and archival censorship in China, it also lays bare competing motivations and curatorial practices that fragment the very sources and sites of historical knowledge and social memory. As material and method, sinological garbology thus challenges us to see 20th-century China anew as a dynamic information state, while raising urgent questions about the definition of archive, the meaning of preservation and destruction, and the processes and possibilities of history.


Chair: Pierre-Emmanuel ROUX (Paris Diderot University)

Kenneth J. HAMMOND

New Mexico State University

A Broadsheet Image of Sixteenth Century Beijing

Sometime in the later sixteenth century, probably in the 1570s or -80s, a broadsheet was printed in Beijing with a lively and highly detailed image of the city, though not a geographically precise one. Labeled 北京城宮殿之圖 [Beijingcheng gongdian zhi tu], it is one meter in height and half a meter wide. The one surviving copy, held in the library of Tohoku University in Sendai, Japan, is hand colored. The image includes many buildings with their names and sometimes additional information. Several people are depicted, as are elephants in the Imperial Elephant Yard. At the heart of the image is a scene of the emperor at work in his study, with guards and attendants. On his table is a scroll on which he appears to have written 天下太平 [Tianxia taiping], meaning all below Heaven is at great peace. Why and how was this image produced, and for what audience? What kinds of information about the city were included and excluded? How would it have been sold? What is the basis of knowledge which informed its creator? How does an item such as this fit into the development of print culture, and of the commercial elaboration and construction of popular imagination? This broadsheet provides a unique window into viewing the urban history of Beijing and the dynamics of early modern Chinese social and economic life. This paper analyzes the image and explores the commodity history of an important artefact at the intersection of Ming China’s highest level of imperial power, the commercial aspirations of a print publisher, and the tastes and interests of popular consumers.

LI Geng

Chinese Academy of Social Sciences

“Old House Can Tell”: Chinese Lineage Group Re-Activation and Female Agency around Built Heritage

This paper is a result of an anthropological study into a case of local self-mobilization about built heritage preservation in Fujian province. Recently in China, huge number of political and financial support has been mobilized to protect built heritage including vernacular buildings which usually undergo serious decay. It has already widely illustrated that houses and landscape can condition one’s group identity. The paper explores this classic issue by describing how lineage or clan is re-activated in post-Socialist China in the process of protecting lineage’s common house. It further points out that the relationship between society and state, another typical topic in Chinese Studies, can be conditioned in a positive way in space-arrangement, but with many conditions. Ethnography and oral history also show that the preservation of house offers a chance to turn people’s attention to women’s agency in household and culture by restoring daily memory of vernacular building’s users into discourses, this observation has its distinctive meaning considering that the female voice and agency are still largely ignored in traditional and contemporary Chinese lineage organizations.

HOU Song

Guangdong University of Foreign Studies

Historicizing, Poeticizing and Dwelling: The Remembrance and Meaning Negotiation of Trees as Cultural Sites in Late Imperial China

This workshop paper explores local-historical ways of remembering trees, physically traceable or not, as cultural site or guji (古迹, ancient vestige) in late imperial China. By analysing guji documentation of trees in the local gazetteers of two focal regions, namely Hangzhou and Guangzhou, I explicate the meaning-making process that effectuates the transformation of trees from a form of natural object to significant site in the human cultural sphere. Specifically, two intersecting modes of meaning-making are foregrounded: historicizing and poeticizing. Through historicizing, trees are rendered culturally meaningful as they function to remember or commemorate certain historical figures, events and/or names. Through poeticizing, trees are culturally constructed as most beautiful jing (景landscape) or site of poetics that calls for human visitation, interpretation and emotion attachment. Specifying these, this study helps us further critique the culture-nature binary rooted in Western Cartesian epistemology, which is still potent in contemporary heritage and public history practices in China and the wider world. It also allows us to see the culturalisation of nature within the framework of an alternative discourse of heritage (i.e., guji) from China. I argue that such cultural meaning-making process and its attendant memory practice profoundly contribute to Chinese people’s dwelling in the world in holistic ways that integrate nature and culture, present and past, the physical and spiritual, and the known and unknown.


Chair: John FINLAY (CECMC)

WANG Lianming

Heidelberg University

Materialized Identities: Kingfisher Feather and Qing Material Culture

Kingfisher feathers have been important commodities or tributes in the early modern period. Positioning into a broader context of Qing tribute animals and material culture, this paper investigates the global lives of kingfisher feathers, which were local specialties stemmed from South Asia and the outlying provinces of the Qing Empire. By looking at their acquisition, circulation/institutional control, and uses in the courtly context, this paper aims to illustrate the supply and network of feather made possible by established tribute system, outlining the trade/tribute routes, through which they reached the court. Secondly, ways of their distribution, managed by the Imperial Household Department, will be discussed. Ultimately, materialized Qing identities will be explored in the broad context of Qing objects made of this material, including military apparatuses and hair accessories used by Manchu elites.


University of Nanjing

Chinese Zodiac: The Social Life of the Yuanming Yuan’s Circle of Animals

Nothing signifies more visibly the rise of nationalistic Chinese demands for the repatriation of stolen art, than the stories surrounding the 12 bronze sculptures (heads of the 12 animals representing the Chinese 12-year cycle), that originated from the Yuanming yuan, the Qing emperor`s palace at the outskirts of Beijing. Since 2010, they rose to prominence far beyond the international circles of Chinese art dealers and connoisseurs, not only through Ai Weiwei’s artistic interpretation, but also through spectacular art auctions and even a movie made by Chinese action star Jackie Chan. These sculptures thus became symbols for one of the bitterest humiliation of China by the West, the looting and burning of the Yuanming yuan in 1860 by European troops, during which they were presumably taken. However, they represent only a tiny fraction of the masses of looted and stolen objects from the Yuanming yuan transported to Europe after 1860, and until today displayed in major European and US museums. Also, information on the zodiac heads are, despite all the publicity, rather scarce: they are not mentioned in the European eye-witness reports from 1860, it is unknown, who took the sculptures to Europe, and what happened to them, before they resurfaced on art auctions during the 1990s. What is known, however is, that they are the result of an artistic cooperation between Jesuit missionaries and Chinese architects and artists during the 18th century. In this paper, I argue, that an investigation into the known facts of the “social biography” of these objects reveals many more aspects of the rather complex and multilayered entangled relationship between China and Europe. I will thus revisit “stations” in the “social life” of the Zodiac heads, from their casting in the 18th century and their significance for their owners, to the looting in the 19th and their distribution over the world and their changed significance in the 20th and 21st century.

Nathalie MONNET

Bibliothèque nationale de France

Le rôle actif des livres chinois dans le développement de la sinologie (The Crucial Influence of Books in the Development of Chinese Studies in France)

La discipline sinologique, très largement française dans ses origines, s’est moins formée à partir d’expériences sur le terrain qu’à partir des livres qui depuis la fin du XVIIe siècle n’ont cessé d’arriver de Chine jusqu’à Paris. Dans le cadre de cette journée d’étude, le livre chinois sera envisagé, non pas comme un simple support de texte—d’ailleurs indéchiffrable à ses débuts—, mais malgré une apparence humble et austère comme un objet physique à forte valeur pour les Européens. L’accumulation matérielle à la Bibliothèque royale de ces fascicules difficilement acheminés par des voies maritimes périlleuses a provoqué la naissance d’une collection de type encyclopédique sur la Chine. Cet ensemble, constitué au cours d’étapes successives formant une longue chaîne historique, a suscité la profonde curiosité de quelques-uns, générant la production d’outils de connaissance originaux (dictionnaires, traductions, catalogues, études particulières), d’apprentissages linguistiques nouveaux et la création de champs inédits du savoir. Ces activités qui ont contribué à ouvrir les esprits au domaine extra européen n’auraient pas vu le jour sans l’implication acharnée de personnalités exceptionnelles, tant en Chine qu’en France, passionnées par la recherche de ces objets rares. Les circonstances historiques, politiques, économiques et matérielles qui ont amené vers nous ces objets-livres leur ont acquis un statut patrimonial. On proposera une réflexion sur ces livres, détournés de leur contexte naturel chinois et devenus objets de fascination, que le destin a menés dans des contrées lointaines où ils sont devenus les acteurs indispensables à l’élaboration d’un nouveau champ intellectuel de réflexion sur un ailleurs culturel.


Chair: Michaela PEJCOCHOVA (National Gallery in Prague)

LI Xiaoxuan

Southeast University, Nanjing

Bronzes Commodified and the Rise of Commercialization in Eastern Zhou

This study discusses fine line incised, thin-walled bronze vessels of Eastern Zhou and their relationship with the industrial and economic shifts. The thin-walled vessel ornamented with fine line-incised decorations was one significantly novel type of Eastern Zhou bronzes. Production of these bronzes required an array of new high-techs of the time. And their ornamentation shows a new-fangled adoption of descriptive and narrative representation of reality. The presentation reconsiders the rise of this new type of bronzes in a uniquely industrial and economic perspective. Informed by recent archaeological discoveries and textual studies regarding urban settlements and workshops, it argues that these new bronzes were ushered in by the growing commercialization. Besides, it attempts to figure out how the particulars of the products respond to the requirement of changed economic construct. Furthermore, it discusses the contemporary owners’ attitude toward these vessels, and through this, we will achieve a better understanding of the complex matrix of relationship regarding the shifts of ideas, material culture, and industrial and economic conditions. Bronze was considered as ritual material with dignity qualification, but commodified with the rise of early commercialism in the Central Plains. As a response to the devolution of ritual tradition, bronze took new roles in the social sphere of the Eastern Zhou period. Through the perspective history, Bronze commodification not only displayed a group of novelty design, but also implied a great innovation of ideas and a transformation of life style.

Johannes LOTZE

University of Manchester

Multilingual Objects: Material Culture as Evidence of Ming China’s Global Engagement (1368-1644)

The Ming 明 dynasty in China (1368-1644) is an exciting subject to study, as we are witnessing a historiographical ‘paradigm shift’ in which several scholars attempt to overturn ideas of China’s closed, even xenophobic, nature subsequent to the year 1368. Many approaches to study the Ming’s global outlook are feasible, from examining basic forms of interaction (diplomacy, trade, warfare) to more specific ones (circulation of people and ideas, language contact). This presentation will critically discuss what material culture studies—a further promising option, but still largely unexplored—can contribute to this overall paradigm shift. For example, the cobalt blue pigment used to colour the famous blue-and-white Ming vases was imported from central Eurasia. Moreover, several Ming-produced ceramics boasted Persian, Arabic, Tibetan, or Phagspa inscriptions, a number of them undoubtedly produced for export. Others possibly served as prestige objects for the court. Finally, ceramics are only one category of artefacts that reveal an empire thoroughly connected with the outside world. Other examples include lacquerware, metalwork, textiles, and seals bearing non-Chinese inscriptions; regalia with gemstones imported from Sri Lanka; cookbooks featuring foreign recipes; a Koran written in Beijing by a Chinese Muslim calligrapher, dated 1401; and public monuments with multilingual inscriptions. The presentation will introduce and discuss these artefacts with the following questions in mind. How should we look at these manifold objects and what can they tell us about the Ming’s engagement with the world that is different from what we learn from texts? For example, what can be gained if we look at multilingual steles not just as texts but also as physical artefacts? What different functions did these multilingual objects perform?

YU Yusen

Heidelberg University

Chinese Painting as Object: Collecting and (Re)mounting Chinese Painting in Persian Albums, 15th–16th Centuries

In recent decades, the migration of Chinese paintings within the East Asian cultural sphere has become the subject of serious study and a growing public enthusiasm. What is less studied – and therefore not so widely known – is that in addition to Japan and Korea, Chinese paintings also travelled westward to Central Asia and Iran, to the Persianate Islamic societies, in the same periods of the fourteenth to fifteenth centuries. Albums in the Topkapi Palace Museum of Istanbul (Hazine 2152, 2153, 2160; also H. 2154) and the Berlin State Library (MSS. Diez A. Fols. 70-74), compiled in different historical contexts, preserve a considerable number of China-related paintings and drawings, be it either “authentic” works by Chinese painters, or Persian copies later ascribed as “work of the Masters of Cathay” or “work of Cathay.” My analysis of this precious corpus of materials in the albums reveals how Chinese painting was collected, copied, and remounted as material objects in the pre-modern Persianate context. In this research, I will focus on two aspects in terms of “connoisseurship(s)” of Chinese painting in the Persianate world: the contexts in which the Chinese paintings were obtained, appreciated, and collected; and, how Chinese painting was re-mounted and materially reconfigured in the Persianate cultural sphere, for example, pasting separate dismantled parts of a single painting into Persian albums (muraqqa). This study will thus extend our understanding of the reception of Chinese painting beyond the traditional border of China.

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